There are many organisations and groups working tirelessly, to define what changes are needed, to keep our children safe. We are not trying to define what we think is the appropriate strategy. We are attempting to pull together all the different strands that are being looked at. This shows the extent and scale of change needed.
When we say the complete system needs to be looked at and changed where needed, we mean everything from the way laws are made (legislature and government), How they are interpreted and applied (courts, including CPS (Crown Prosecution Service), judges, solicitors, barristers, juries), and how the laws are enforced (police), as well as how various institutions and agencies operate within this system (social services, schools, carers, voluntary organisations like charities and community based organisations).
The overall aim of any system is to Protect individuals from harm. To do this we need to:
Provide support for all those who have been sexually abused. This means:
Prosecute all those who sexually abuse children or view child rape on-line. This means :
Prevent any further sexual abuse. This means:
Anyone with an understanding of the nature, scale, and lasting effects of child sexual abuse know that there has to be a comprehensive strategy for change covering a programme of action for each of three key action themes of Prevention, Prosecution and Provision of Support.
Child rape is the most serious and damaging crime in our society with long lasting consequences. For victims of child sexual abuse, the crime represents a personal violation which has life-changing consequences for personal health and wellbeing, not just for themselves but too frequently for their future children. These individuals deserve and must be supported to rebuild their lives, and see their offenders brought to justice.
There also needs to be a prevention programme to inform and educate children and adults to ensure that no more children have to endure such a violation.
In short, the systems that are supposed to be in place to protect our children and bring the perpetrators to justice are failing catastrophically.
Every one of these demands requires a thought out response. Some of this is already happening, but it is not at a scale or with a determination to make the necessary difference. The rest of this page explains what needs to happen if child sexual abuse is to be stopped.
Sexually abused children suffer more than an intolerable violation of their physical integrity: their mental health can also be affected and their bonds of trust with anybody destroyed. The legacy of abuse frequently expresses itself in a number of ways through depression, anger, self harm, eating disorders, anorexia, bulimia, alcoholism, and drug addiction, and which may not show until adult life. Sexual abuse experienced as children is one of the main reasons for many women taking drugs, undertaking sex-work and/or ending up in prison.
The current systems of diagnosis, referral and support are totally inadequate for survivors of child sexual abuse. The current physical and mental healthcare systems attempt to address the symptoms without dealing with the psychological damage from the root cause of the abuse. As a result, many become dependent on anti-depressants or end up with a revolving door scenario of mental health challenges.
Child victims of sexual violence have the right to adequate and appropriate psychological and medical treatment. Prompt and culturally sensitive support and counselling should be available both to children who have been sexually abused, to help them deal with what has happened and prevent their lives becoming chaotic when they grow up, and also to adults who were never able to address the abuse at the time.
Believe it or not, some therapists need more training on how to support people that have been abused, and in how to recognise some of the potential effects of abuse e.g. Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD).
There is very little in the way of support via GP referred counselling; both in terms of speed of referral (waiting lists are a minimum of 6 weeks) and the quality of the available therapy. GPs need to play a crucial role in helping to recognise the signs of sexual abuse in children, and also this root cause of so many other symptoms of poor physical and mental health as an individual grows from childhood to adulthood.
For many survivors, flashbacks, unexpected triggers, or even the attendance at a weekly counselling session, can be traumatic and debilitating. After having a counselling session that can bring up all sorts of memories, they are then sent home to deal with the effect of that alone, so provision is required for appropriate therapeutic support, which is not a mental health institution.
Many survivors go on to have families of their own. Some will struggle to be the ”model parent”, they need help to reduce the impact on their families, and support for the family so they can work together through this.
The numbers of incidents of reported sexual violence against children is rising rapidly and will continue to do so for years to come as survivors gain confidence to speak out and tell their stories. Yet, the numbers of cases that reach prosecution or even conviction are falling.
Survivors will tell over and over of their attempts to speak out or to demonstrate to others of the sexual violence against them, usually inflicted by someone they know. They will say how they have not been listened to, or otherwise disbelieved. They will say how they have been forced to change or deny their stories under pressure from family members to protect the perpetrators. Media stories abound of the failures of police investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse, of the Crown Prosecution service refusal to bring cases forward for prosecution. Survivors and their families will tell of cases that reach court being thrown out on matters of procedure, or with “not-guilty” verdicts as juries struggle to comprehend the truth being told to them.
“Operation Notarise”, started in 2013, has identified more than 25,000 people in the UK suspected of viewing images of child abuse on-line. As at March 2015, 745 suspected pedophiles have been arrested, 264 prosecuted (including teachers, a retired magistrate, a doctor, a Scout leader, and civil servants), and 518 children removed from danger (less than 1% have been convicted). The Police believe that there are about 60,000 people in Britain who are accessing child abuse images. With the correlation that exists between viewing online child porn and going on to abuse a child, why isn’t this being looked at more?
The recent new CPS Guidelines on Prosecuting Cases of Child Sexual Abuse (October 2013) reflect recent efforts by the police and CPS to change their practices, but it is nowhere near enough. The investigation and prosecution of sexual offending, particularly against children, needs to involve many more changes (if not an overhaul )across the complete system.
This will begin with victims believing that when they choose to tell their stories, they will be believed and they will be protected. Until there is more confidence from victims in the systems that are supposed to protect them, they will not report what is happening to them.
Legal procedures must be child-friendly, taking fully into account the trauma of abuse and the need to safeguard the victims’ security, privacy, identity and image.
Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse is vital if a reformed child protection system is to be effective.
It is estimated that only 5% of child abuse is reported, yet Serious Case Reviews repeatedly reveal that professionals and others had long suspected that abuse was taking place but failed to inform the authorities. This is why outrageous child sex offences have gone undetected for years. The only solution is to require by law that those who, in the course of their professional duties, become aware of information or evidence that a child is or has been the victim of abuse should be under a legal obligation to notify their concerns to others. This requirement then needs to be supported by clear and robust procedures and processes to enable those that report the abuse to know that it will be followed through swiftly, professionally and with sensitivity to those involved.
What is clear is that things have to change to bring child rapists to justice and to protect future generations of children.
Child sexual abuse is not inevitable and should not be tolerated in a modern society. The only way to ultimately stop sexual abuse is to implement a comprehensive programme of information, education, and protection measures which raise awareness and ultimately lead to a change in social attitudes.
Prevention starts with information and education. A nationally supported programme at local and national levels to equip children, their families/carers and societies with knowledge and tools to prevent sexual violence against children needs to be implemented. This must re-focus perceptions from classic ‘stranger danger’ awareness to campaigns that recognise abusers are often people children know, which in turn will increase the numbers of children and adults disclosing and send a clear message to perpetrators that they are no longer safe in the actions.
Children need to be made aware of what sexual abuse is, and where to go to access help. Schools also need to work to create an environment where children feel able to disclose any abuse they are experiencing. This would be driven by compulsory Sex and Relationships education in schools at primary and secondary on sex, relationships, and abuse, and supported by information and education to parents and carers.
Perpetrators of sexual violence are not always adults. More than 8000 under-18s were accused of sexually abusing children and other young people in the last two years. This makes up around two thirds of all reported cases of child sex abuse. Most child perpetrators are themselves victims of abuse or neglect.
This information and awareness campaign should be supported by widespread promotion of sexual violence support services which are supported with secure funding to deal with an increase in demand.
Another vital dimension to a comprehensive prevention programme is to ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence are monitored and treated where possible. Rehabilitation programmes need to be scaled up and made compulsory for those who have been convicted of offences related to sexual violence against children. The police and local safeguarding boards are already aware of significant numbers of paedophiles living and working in our communities, but who remain unconvicted. These include the 60,000 individuals known to be accessing child pornography online. Voluntary attendance by those who identify themselves at risk of abusing children can be encouraged, along with a support programme for family members who live with known child sexual offenders.
Close monitoring of perpetrators who have been accused of child sexual abuse is crucial to ensure that they no longer get unsupervised access to children.
This issue global, it is a problem in every country in the world. In July 2010 the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse stated that more needs to be done including dealing with the fact that abusers feel they will continue to get away with this.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has developed the “Lanzarote Convention” It is the first international instrument to treat sexual abuse of children as a crime, irrespective of where or by whom it is committed – in the home, in a child care institution, through organised crime networks or via the Internet. The UK government needs to build on this lead. Chris Tuck (campaigner) has amongst others been calling for the creation of a ‘Single Agency for the Survivors of Abuse’. This would provide adult survivors with an alternative route, it would more coordinated and knowledgable, enabling them to find the right kind of help in a timely fashion.